Canadian troops honoured for role in D-Day invasion

A monument commemorating the role of the Royal Canadian Navy in the Allies' success on the beaches of Normandy in June 1944 was unveiled Friday in France.

World leaders gather in France to commemorate 65th anniversary

British paratroopers from the 3rd Parachute Battalion land in a wheat field outside the village of Ranville, western France, Friday, as troops re-enact part of the bloody Allied landings of D-Day. ((Francois Mori/Associated Press))
A monument commemorating the role of the Royal Canadian Navy in the Allies' success on the beaches of Normandy in June 1944 was unveiled Friday in France.

The statue and plaque were unveiled in a ceremony held at the Juno Beach Centre in Courseulles-sur-Mer.

This year's D-Day ceremonies mark the 65th anniversary of more than 130,000 Allied troops storming the beaches of Normandy on the morning of June 6, 1944, a turning point that led to the defeat of Germany in the Second World War.

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International ceremonies at the U.S. cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, overlooking Omaha Beach. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, U.S. President Barack Obama and Britain's Prince Charles will attend.

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper will attend the government of Canada Commemorative Ceremony at the Juno Beach Centre Association Canadian veterans, RCMP, Canadian Forces members and Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson will also attend.

The success at the beaches along the Normandy coast couldn't have been achieved without the support of the Canadian navy, Canadian historian Jack Granatstein said.

The Germans had fortified the coast of northern France as part of their Atlantic wall, Granatstein said.

"It was a fortress of obstacles, mines and protected by shell fire. Every landing craft that went ashore had to dodge obstacles, carrying troops, picking their way as best they could through mines and hedge rows that were designed to put holes in their ships," he said.

Canada had one of the largest navies in the world during the Second World War, with more than 106,000 young men and women serving.

Canadian navy destroyers spent the much of the war fending off German boats and submarines while also keeping merchant lines open with Europe, Granatstein said.

'Impossible' to imagine Europe without Juno

"The huge armada that was part of this operation allowed the Allied forces to land on the continent and to bring freedom to this continent," said Cmdr. Peter Ellis, speaking at Juno Beach on Friday.

Canadian Second World War veteran Sam Wormington, 88, shows his medals in Caen, France, on Thursday, prior to the start of ceremonies marking the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))
Ellis said it would have been "impossible to imagine Europe without the Juno Beach landings."

Over 14,000 men of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division stormed Juno beach, and 340 of them died that morning.

Rifle regiments and tanks from Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina and northern New Brunswick, among others, hit the beach shortly after dawn.

"It took guts and training and the support of the ships offshore to get them established on that beach," Granatstein said.

In fierce hand-to-hand fighting, they fought their way into the towns of Bernières, Courseulles and St. Aubin.

By the end of the day, facing ferocious resistance, Canadian troops had struck farther inland than any other Allied division.

Aging veterans

The 65th anniversary ceremonies are expected to be the last large-scale remembrance involving the war's aging survivors, many of whom are now in their late 80s.

"Our veterans — ordinary Canadians who accomplished extraordinary things — represent the best of Canada," Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson said. "The freedoms we enjoy today are because of them, and we owe it to them to remember."

Friday's events began with a re-enacted parachute drop near the village of Ranville, by the strategically important Pegasus Bridge.

In the evening, fireworks are scheduled to be simultaneously fired from 25 beaches where Allied forces came ashore along the Normandy coast.

Some of the veterans who stormed Juno Beach, along with representatives from the Canadian Forces, the government and youth organizations, are participating in the three days of events, which are being held Friday through Sunday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will arrive in France on Friday night and join U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Prince Charles to participate in ceremonies at the American Cemetery and Memorial at Colleville-sur-Mer on Saturday.

The events are being hosted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Harper is scheduled to attend several ceremonies in the towns and cemeteries near the beaches where Canadian troops came ashore.

With files from The Canadian Press